Sunday, April 27, 2008

Churches for Middle East Peace Conference Report and video of ELCA Bishop Hanson

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson opened the Churches for Middle East Peace conference in Washington, D.C., last week. Video of his keynote is at this link:

Churches for Middle East Peace Conference Report: A Time for Learning, Prayer & Advocacy for Peacemaking in the Nation's Capitol
This message can be found online at:

150 church advocates and clergy from around the country gathered in Washington earlier this week amidst pouring rains that cleared just in time for their advocacy day on Capitol Hill.

"Calming the Storm: Middle East Peacemaking in a Turbulent Time" was the theme of CMEP's April 20-22 conference that sought to build support in theU.S. Congress for diligent follow-up on the Annapolis process toward the goal of a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The conference was a unique gathering of Christians from a wide variety of denominations committed to effective advocacy with policymakers as well as continued education and training back home. The conference reflects CMEP's partnership with Middle East policy experts, Jewish and Palestinian partner organizations and officials from the U.S. Congress and the Administration as we work to build support in Washington for U.S. policies conducive to peacemaking.

The full conference report is included below.
Links: Media Coverage -
Speaker Bios -
Schedule -
Photos -
Video of Major Plenaries and Prayer Breakfast -
CMEP Advocacy Message -

Inspiration to Advocate

The conference began with greetings from Maureen Shea, CMEP's Board Chair and introduction of Warren Clark, CMEP's new Executive Director. Reflecting on the important work of CMEP's grassroots advocates, Clark said, "Despite enormous obstacles, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement this year is possible and we must keep up the momentum".

The Sunday evening keynote address was given by Mark S. Hanson - - Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who spoke strongly in support of a two-state solution to end the conflict and likened advocates to marathon runners who must continue to run the race to the finish line of a peace agreement, with CMEP's conference and ongoing advocacy guidance providing the necessary support. "We can only run that race together and we are here to give each other that encouragement," he said, commenting that he came to the conference with "renewed resolve to join with others in daily praying for, consistently advocating for, working for a lasting, just Middle East peace."

Engaging in the Stormy Issues of the Middle East

Monday was filled with opportunities to learn from and engage in issues related to Middle East peacemaking. Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland/Brookings Institution and Gary Sick of the Gulf 2000/Project began the day [video at] putting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the broader context of regional dynamics, including the role of Iran, and drawing lessons from recent public opinion polls in the Middle East that show continued majority support for a two-state peace, while at the same time expressing doubts about the viability of the current effortsand a new sense of urgency if they fail.

B. Todd Deatherage of the Policy Planning Office of the U.S. State Department provided an in-depth and up-to-date account of the Annapolis process and the Administration'swork to achieve a peace agreement by the end of 2008, noting in particular the important role of groups like CMEP and the Christian community in the Holy Land.

Amb. (ret) Philip Wilcox of the Foundation for Middle East Peace moderated a discussion [video at] between Ziad Asali of the American Task Force on Palestine and Ori Nir of Americans for Peace Now in which they provided their perspectives on the current push for peaceand the importance of the collective efforts of Jewish, Christian and Arab-American organizations and citizens. In discussing Israel's 60th anniversary, Nir described a feeling among many Israelisthat they're "not there yet" in the sense that Israel is not yet at peace with itsneighbors. In the midst of celebrating the Passover holiday, he closed his remarkswith the hope that "next year would be in a 'shared Jerusalem'".

Having just returned from a trip to the Holy Land, Asali noted some of the obstacles to moving forward, including settlement activity, checkpoints and economic deterioration in the Palestinian territories, and predicted that if the conflict is not resolvedsoon, it will be transformed from a political conflict into a religious one.

Morning and afternoon workshops provided an opportunity for the participants to hear from CMEP partners and colleagues on a variety of topics relating to Israeli-Palestinianpeace and the broader Middle East [link to a full list of workshop topics and speakers:]. On Monday evening, participants had the opportunity to attend a special event featuring Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center and his new book, "The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace."

Training for Peacemaking

On Monday afternoon, participants focused on CMEP's own advocacy message and prepared for their Hill meetings. Julie Schumacher Cohen, CMEP's Legislative Coordinator, Maureen Shea, CMEP's Board Chair and Stephen Colecchi of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reviewed the talking points and led an interactive training on how to hold an effective Congressional meeting. Reflecting on the theme of the conference, they reminded participants that as we struggle to understand the complexities of Israeli-Palestinian issues and grasp the suffering of all the peoples of the Middle East, we must also work to "calm the storm within us" as we prepare for advocacy.Participants had an opportunity to meet with others from their state to review and strategize for the next day.

Prayer before Action

During CMEP's first Congressional Prayer Breakfast [video at] advocates, Christian leaders, Members of Congress and their staff quieted their minds and lifted up their hopes and concerns for peace in the Holy Land. U.S. House of Representatives Chaplain, Rev. Daniel Coughlin offered the opening grace, praying that "our oneness in prayer and the work of advocacy today bring about freedom from internal conflict and peace in us and in a very Holy Land."

A message from Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, reminded participants that their advocacy work "is truly a good work, an act of faith, a response to the call of the Lord to work for peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians in the land that is holy to the people of three great religions."

Bishop John Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington reflected that a two-state solution "can be realizable in our lifetime" but not unless advocates continue doing their hard work. Archbishop Vicken Aykayzian of the Armenian Orthodox Church offereda closing prayer, asking for "wisdom and understanding" for advocates and political leaders and God's "blessing on all the people of the Holy Land of all creeds and backgrounds."

Several Members of Congress joined the call to pray and act for peace in the Holy Land and responded with their own commitment to join with CMEP and others in moving forward on the peace process. The Congressional Prayer Breakfast included remarks from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (NE-1) and Chris Van Hollen (MD-8) and a message from Rep. David Price (NC-4) read by one of his senior staff.Rep.

Jeff Fortenberry [video at] told a story of how he found himself in the Sinai desert in 1979 when Israel and Egypt made peace with the help of the United States. "The spirit of peace and hope that filled the land there was so deeply formative to me as a young person" he said, thanking the group for inviting him to "participate in some small way with you in your good work and concern for the people of the Middle East and the hope that we all have that somehow despite the intractable difficulties there that we can build a more just and peaceful world."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen [link to video:] commented that in this "combustible" time, the work of "Churches for Middle East Peace is needed now more than ever," urging advocates to "keep the faith."
"There have been moments of peace and hope and then there have been valleys of despair ... I commend the Administration, the Bush administration, for coming together at Annapolis and bringing the parties together. Now of course the challenge is to keep that process going," said the Congressman.

A message from Rep. David Price (NC-4) emphasized the need for successful peacemaking efforts and the important role of groups like CMEP. "I join you in praying for a just peace in the Holy Land ... through our prayers, we seek sustenance that will nourish our hope and maintain our commitment to action. Organizations like Churches for Middle East are, for many, an answer to such prayers. Your tireless advocacy for peace with justice in the Holy Land is an inspiration to me and my colleagues. I am grateful for your work. No matter, the odds, we must continue our work for a just peace in the Middle East. We must seize every opportunity to make small gains,even in times of overwhelming challenge."

On to the Hill to Build Support for Peacemaking

After an energizing breakfast, CMEP advocates departed the Capitol Building and went on to hold over 75 meetings with their Representatives, Senators and staff. The advocates presented three main "asks," all related to the goal of a two-statesolution with a secure Israel living in peace alongside a viable Palestinian state.

In meetings throughout the day, they 1) emphasized the need for U.S. leadership on the Annapolis process and robust Middle East diplomacy, citing the importance of both sides abiding by their Road Map obligations and for a solution to the Gaza crisis. In the House, advocates urged co-sponsorship of H. Con. Res. 321 [] in support of comprehensive, multi-lateral diplomacy across the Middle East. In the Senate, they encouraged hearings in the Foreign Relations committee to monitor progress on the current peace efforts. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Israel, advocates asked their Members to use this opportunity to recommit to work for Israeli-Arab peace, noting that Israel's future is best served by a viable Palestinian state [click here: - to read some constructive statements that were made later that day].

Conference participants also urged 2) Congressional support for Palestinian funding in the Iraq supplemental and FY09 foreign operations appropriations bills, as an essential element of building the foundation for a sustainable Palestinian state. 3) The rapid decline of Palestinian Christians and the urgent need for a two-state peace agreement to stem Christian emigration - and improve life for all the peopleof the Holy Land - were also raised during the Hill meetings. Click here: - for the full CMEP advocacy message.

Continuing the Work

On Tuesday, conference participants returned home with renewed commitment to the work of Middle East peacemaking and to staying engaged with CMEP. In their final send-off, Warren Clark, CMEP's Director urged advocates to "deepen, establish and continue" their relationships on Capitol Hill.

Photos courtesy of Karin Brown and John Johnson.

Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Franciscan Friars OFM (English Speaking Conference, JPIC Council), Friends Committee on National Legislation, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Maryknoll Missioners,Mennonite Central Committee, Moravian Church in America, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (GBCS & GBGM).

Churches for Middle East Peace
110 Maryland Ave. NE
Suite 311
Washington, DC 20002

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